James Lafayette Dicky III grew up in Buckhead and graduated from North Fulton High School in 1939, attended Darlington School in Rome
before attending Clemson for a single semester. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps where he served as flight navigator and radar specialist on 39 missions in the Pacific Theater.
It was during this period that he became interested in writing, frequently penning works into notebooks supplied by his mother. Upon his return to the United States he entered Vanderbilt College (B.A.) and later Rice College (Masters), where he began teaching and writing advertisements for firms in New York and Atlanta. In 1968, after serving as Poet Laureate of the United States, he moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he would teach until his death in 1997.
Dickey always loved the outdoors. In addition to being an avid canoeist he was a hunter, fisherman, hiker and explorer. When the Corps of Engineers announced that they intended to dam the Coosawattee River between Ellijay and Carters, Georgia, Dickey decided to make a final run of the famous whitewater (considered to be one of the 10 best in the United States). Still rural in nature, he had a friend drop him and another canoeist off outside of Ellijay. They were to meet hours later further down the river.
His friend unknowingly stumbled on a still. One of the men had a young boy take Dickey's friend to the place, but told the child that if the canoeists did not show up, kill the man. Fortunately Dickey and his companion made it to the pick-up spot, but the story for Deliverance, Dickey's most famous work, was born.
He was renown through most of his adult life as a heavy drinker. In 1994 he was rushed to the hospital suffering from jaundice a sign of liver failure. Over the next three years Dickey's health declined, although he did continue to teach.